DEMOCRACY takes power away from the few, or the one, and places it in the hands of the many. Which is why we hear phrases like “people power” and “returning power to the people” bandied around when speaking about democratic reform.
Theoretically, if there is a free press, fairly delineated constituencies, independent state agencies and a respect for human rights, then the government of the day will be a reflection of the will of the people.
We, the ordinary men and women, choose our leaders. We can also “fire” them by voting them out. Therefore, we have ultimate power.
However, just because power ultimately lies with the people, this does not mean that leaders have to bend to the will of the people all the time.
Sure we can vote them out (theoretically), but while they are in authority, they have a degree of freedom to do what they may deem to be right, even though the people might not like it. This is known as leadership.
This is why unpopular but ultimately worthy policies and legislation come into place. It takes leadership to do this. A person who is scared of losing popularity, especially among his core supporters, to the point of supporting noxious views, does not have leadership qualities.
Which is why if a government believes in certain things, the leaders must speak up accordingly. Conversely, they must speak up against things they don’t believe in.
Let me give you an example. If a group spouts obnoxious racism, a true leader would speak out against it, even if the group members are among his supporters.
If he does not do so, what it means is that he is condoning such views. Even if he is keeping silent so as to not alienate his support base, he is acting in a cowardly fashion and is in effect legitimising racism.
Now, I am saddened by the fact that racism in Malaysia is alive and well. When writing and teaching, I have consistently argued for us to move away from such attitudes. I honestly thought that there were more and more Malaysians who are of the same view. Sadly this is not so.
Surveys have shown that most Malays will vote based on race.
This is depressing to the extreme. Yet, this is also the reality.
One of the reasons Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is the chosen Prime Minister candidate for Pakatan Harapan is so that he can woo the Malay vote.
I am presuming his Malay nationalist background will make him palatable to those who still think along those lines.
This is the political reality, and it is beyond sad. Now, Pakatan has always claimed to be non-racially motivated.
Yet they have to pander to a racially motivated electorate. This is realpolitik and it is upsetting yet understandable.
The question is, if Pakatan wins, will it try to move the nation away from such repulsive thinking? Will it be able to show some true leadership?
- Azmi Sharom (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.